School leaders are receiving “threatening letters” from parents who do not want their children to wear face coverings in classrooms, MPs have heard.
Schools minister Nick Gibb urged families to allow children to wear face masks in secondary schools when they return amid reports of opposition.
David Johnston, Conservative MP for Wantage, said headteachers had told him some parents are issuing “a notice of liability” about the Department for Education’s (DfE) face mask guidance.
You should allow your child to wear a face mask in the classroom because it protects the other children in the classroom, and also actually may well prevent your child from having to self-isolateNick Gibb
Addressing the education select committee on face masks, Mr Johnston said: “When a headteacher decides that actually they do need them, based on the DfE guidance, they’re getting quite challenging, some might say threatening, letters from certain parents who disagree with the stance, ordering them to desist.”
Conservative MP Robert Halfon, chairman of the committee, said: “I’ve had the same situation in my own constituency with parents vigorously challenging the heads, saying that they don’t have to wear them and that guidance is guidance and it’s not a regulation or a law.”
The Government’s guidance advises secondary school pupils to wear face coverings wherever social distancing cannot be maintained, including in classrooms, but it is not mandatory.
Mr Gibb told the committee: “I would say to parents: you should allow your child to wear a face mask in the classroom because it protects the other children in the classroom, and also actually may well prevent your child from having to self-isolate because somebody near them has tested positive for Covid.”
His comments came as millions of pupils began to return to class after months of remote learning.
The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) is providing members with a template letter to use in response to letters some schools have received objecting to the use of face coverings.
Primary school children are not being asked to wear face coverings on their return to class.
Pupils in schools and colleges in England, except children of key workers and vulnerable pupils, have been learning remotely since the start of the lockdown.
The latest DfE figures show that the proportion of pupils in England being taught on-site last week rose to nearly a fifth (19%), up from 18%.
The rise came in the week before all pupils were allowed to return to school.
Some 28% of primary school pupils were on-site last week, compared with 27% the previous week.
Overall, 6% of secondary school students were in class last week – the same as the week before.
The DfE has dispatched 1,250,738 laptops and tablets to support disadvantaged pupils across England to access remote education since the start of the pandemic.
Figures show that 688,317 devices have been sent to councils, academy trusts, schools and colleges since the lockdown began on January 4 – which is an extra 33,544 compared with last week.
It comes after the Government pledged to provide 1.3 million devices to disadvantaged children.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Yesterday, it was lovely to see the happy scenes as all pupils and teachers returned to schools and colleges across the country.
“Early indications are that approximately 99% of state-funded schools are open – with pupils returning to the classroom as planned.”